The $44 million question

A $44 million legislative funding shortfall is forcing USF administrators to consider budget cuts, which could increase class sizes, cap merit-based scholarship awards and reduce the availability of those services classified as non-essential.

The deficit resulted in a combination of unfunded full-time students, a recent veto of a 5 percent tuition increase by Gov. Charlie Crist and, most recently, warnings from the Governor that state agencies will face budget cuts of 4 to 10 percent.

The lack of funds has already forced officials at the University of Florida and Florida State University to announce cost-cutting measures.

Last month FSU President T.K. Wetherell announced his school’s plans to freeze enrollment and cut library hours, while UF announced a hiring freeze Monday.

Though administrators emphasized that all talks are at this point tentative, similar plans have been discussed at USF. These include capping enrollment at its current level, a hiring freeze and moving more classes to a Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule.

If USF faces a 10 percent cut, the budget shortfall will jump to $66 million, which will dig into the University’s base budget – forcing administrators to consider even more dramatic cuts, including layoffs as a last resort.

“Base budget is the financial heart and soul of the institution, that’s what makes this exercise so potentially different,” Vice Provost Dwayne Smith said. “We’ve been faced with budget cuts before, though 10 percent is the extreme, we’ve never been faced with a number like that before.”

Administrators at USF will continue to evaluate cost-cutting options through Tuesday, when the Board of Governors will convene to discuss statewide cuts, said Khator.

The BOG will consider capping enrollment growth, closing campus branches with low enrollments related to expenditures and raising tuition for the Spring 2008 Semester if the budget reduction exceeds 4 percent.

Student Impact

According to Provost Renu Khator, administrators are doing everything in their power to reduce the impact on student life. When evaluating cost-cutting plans, their number one priority is to ensure that the student’s progress toward a degree will not be impeded.

Administrators have met department chairs and leaders from the faculty senate and student government to compile a list of cost-cutting measures, which include measures to use existing facilities more efficiently, redefine state research grant structures and cancel departmental subscriptions to journals and newspapers that can be found in the Library.

Khator, who is considered a full-time employee with a 100 percent workload, has signed up to teach Hindi 1, something she said may be expected of more administrators.

“When times are tough, leadership is tested,” she said. “We will do everything possible to keep students from feeling any pain.”